World AIDS Day was first observed on December 1, 1988 and to this day is still regarded as the first global health awareness day. As we come upon 40 years since the first reported cases of HIV-related illnesses and deaths, Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties would like to honor all the lives that have been lost and stand in support of stopping the spread of HIV.
What is HIV?
HIV is a virus that damages the immune system. If left untreated, it can cause someone to become very sick and eventually can lead to a final stage of the infection, called AIDS. In the US, it is rare that someone with HIV develop AIDS because taking HIV medications every day as prescribed does stop the progression of the infection. It is most commonly spread through contact with semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids and/or blood — usually during unprotected acts of sex or by sharing injection drug equipment, such as needles. HIV can affect anybody regardless of age, gender, or sexual orientation. About 1 million people in the United States live with HIV, and on average more than 41,000 new infections happen every year.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HIV Surveillance Report (2019), the number of new HIV diagnoses was highest among people ages 25 to 34, and Black and Latino people are disproportionately affected by HIV. There were 36,801 new HIV diagnoses in the U.S. in 2019, of those, 69% (25,552) were among gay and bisexual men, 23% (8,616) were among heterosexuals and 7% (2.508) were among people who injected drugs. California is the second-highest state of new cases in the United States.
Getting Tested for HIV
No one can tell if they are infected with HIV just by the way they look or feel because most people who are infected with HIV may not have symptoms for years. The only way to know for sure if a person has HIV is to get tested. The CDC recommends that everyone sexually active between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested as a part of routine wellness checks, even if they are in a committed relationship. If an individual is engaging in activities that are more at risk of contracting HIV, such as men who have sex with men, people who are engaging in sex work, or IV drug users – it is suggested they get tested every 3-6 months.
HIV testing is painless and simple. Sometimes it can be a swipe of saliva from the mouth or might require a quick finger prick or blood draw, and sometimes results can be ready in less than 30 minutes. Although there is no cure for HIV, people who are on treatment and continue to take their medication as prescribed can still live normal lives and do things like be in relationships, have sex, have children, etc.
There’s no cure for HIV but there are treatments that can help a person stay healthier and lower their chances of spreading HIV to others. This is called ‘treatment as prevention” and works because it keeps a HIV person’s viral load down so low, it cannot be transmitted to another person. There is also a daily medicine called PrEP that can protect folks who might be more at risk of contracting HIV – they can talk to their healthcare provider to find out if PrEP is right for them. There is also an emergency medication called PEP, which is taken within 72 hours of exposure to HIV to help reduce the risk of transmission. This can be obtained at any hospital emergency room or someone could call their healthcare provider for more information.
At Planned Parenthood Orange and San Bernardino Counties, we have services to help prevent HIV and support HIV-positive individuals and their partners.